Newcastle Knights v Canterbury Bulldogs @ Hunter Stadium
The Bulldogs head to Newcastle on Saturday Afternoon looking to shore up their Top 4 position. The Knights on the other hand will be desperate to try and reward their home fans as a long, hard winter starts to draw to a close. The Bulldogs have Brisbane right on their heels after their unconvincing victory over the Dragons at a wet WIN Stadium on Thursday night and can't afford any slip ups if they want that crucial double bite of the cherry in September. Newcastle are facing the prospect of breaking an unwanted club record of 13 consecutive losses. A loss to the Bulldogs on Saturday would consign them to a 14th straight defeat since their only win of the season against the Wests Tigers in Round 6.
The Bulldogs have been very unconvincing of late and will be looking to put in a much more complete display here. Trounced in Townsville and lucky to get away with a dire 13-10 win over the struggling Dragons, the Dogs attack is looking decidedly clunky. The Bulldogs will be missing Greg Eastwood with Raymond Faitala-Mariner taking his place in the back-row and Tony Williams remaining on the bench. The Dogs will see a perfect opportunity to click their attack into gear against a Knights defence which is by far and away the worst in the competition. The Dogs have a clear size advantage here and their forwards should be able to dominate the middle of the field. Coach Des Hasler will be casting a watchful eye over his halves pairing of Josh Reynolds and Moses Mbye. They should spend plenty of time on the front foot here and Hasler will want some end product.
Newcastle welcome back veteran five-eight Jarrod Mullen for the clash as he returns from persistent hamstring woes. Coach Nathan Brown will be looking for a far more competitive first half then what they served up at Brookvale Oval last Sunday. The Knights have been better at home and Brown will be expecting his side to take it to Canterbury early on in the piece here.
Verdict - I Think the Bulldogs can find their mojo here and turn it on. Every so often they show us they can be both both brutal and brilliant in attack and afternoon football against the Knights is the perfect recipe for them. Up front this is a no contest on paper. Bulldogs by 30.
Cronulla Sharks V Canberra Raiders @ Shark Park
We get a finals clash come early here as Canberra test their premiership mettle against the high flying Sharks. The Raiders put in their most dominant display of the season in routing South Sydney last Sunday sending out a warning that they mean business. The Sharks remain undefeated, however their amazing winning streak was broken as they played out a captivating 18 all draw with the Gold Coast Titans. With both these sides in the Top 4 this could well be a preview of Week 1 of the finals. Earlier in the season the Sharks put on a scintillating display routing the Raiders 40-16.
The Sharks will be looking to retain their place in 1st with a victory over the Raiders. With the Storm just a point back and the two teams set to meet in Round 26 the race for the Minor Premiership is well and truly on. The Sharks are at full strength naming an unchanged line up to the one that drew on the Gold Coast. The Sharks have made Shark Park a fortress this year, maintaining a perfect 10-0 record at the venue. They have racked up a combined 70 points in their last 2 performances at the venue and will fancy their chances of keeping up that average against a Raiders side that can leak points.
The Raiders coach Ricky Stuart was at his foxing best earlier this week when he proclaimed he would be happy just to finish "within 3-4 tries of Cronulla". Make no mistake Stuart will be telling his troops something very different and will be planning on ambushing his old club here.It has bee a while since Stuart has ben at the pointy end of the ladder and he can be a master motivator. This Raiders side have the strike power to worry Cronulla if they can put it all together. This should be a fierce contest in the middle of the field with both sides fielding big packs.
Verdict - I think this game will be high scoring and very entertaining. It is the blockbuster of the round and I expect both sides to show off their attacking prowess. I just can't go past the Sharks though, the Raiders are probably a year away from challenging the really top sides, especially on the road. I think the Raiders can score over 20 points here but it won't be enough. Cronulla by 10.
Melbourne Storm v South Sydney Rabbitohs @ AAMI Park
The Melbourne Storm will be looking to reel in Premiership leaders Cronulla as they face South Sydney at home on Saturday Night. The Storm will be going for 6 straight wins as they build momentum at the right time of the year. The besieged Bunnies will simply be looking to avoid a 9th straight loss as their season goes from bad to worse. They were humiliated 54-4 at home to the Raiders last Sunday and must be dreading the trip to Melbourne.
Melbourne were at their miserly best last week defending their way to a 16-8 win against a Johnathan Thurston less Cowboys outfit. The Storm have the best defence in the competition and will fancy their chances of shutting out the stuttering Rabbitohs. The Storm have an incredible record against the Rabbitohs winning 21 of their 25 match ups. Craig Bellamy might see an opportunity here to put some points on the board after the Storm have been functional rather then brilliant with the ball in hand over the past 2 weeks.
The Rabbitohs make 4 changes to the side that was demolished at home last week. Greg Inglis, Hymel Hunt, Thomas Burgess and Joe Burgess all return to a side that will be looking to restore some pride. Inglis returns to five-eight a position he once thrived in at Melbourne. Michael Maguire might be under contract for next season however will need to avoid further embarrassing defeats if he is to survive at Redfern. Souths fans must be wondering how things have so quickly fallen apart for the premiers of 2014.
Verdict - Look away Souths fans. I see this getting very ugly. There were some very bad signs for Souths last week and a trip to Melbourne is the last thing this side needs. Melbourne by 38.